Beyoncé’s politically charged performance at this year’s Super Bowl halftime show continues to inspire fans and detractors several days after the game has come and gone.
The pop icon performed her new song “Formation” while flanked by a squad of stunning black women clad in clothes meant to conjure up memories of the Black Panthers, which was founded 40 years ago. Prior to her performance on Sunday, the “Drunk in Love” singer released a music video for the song. It made more plain the sociopolitical content of the record, with allusions to the Black Lives Matter movement and Hurricane Katrina. In perhaps the video’s most incendiary image, Beyoncé sits atop a New Orleans police car which is eventually submerged in the water.
On Monday, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who himself has a polarizing record on police brutality issues, condemned the performance. “I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers who are the people who protect her and protect us, and keep us alive,” he said during an appearance on Fox News. ”And what we should be doing in the African-American community, and all communities, is build up respect for police officers.” Giuliani’s broadside was followed by calls for a protest outside of the NFL’s headquarters in New York on February 16 by an anonymous critic who called Beyoncé’s performance a “race-baiting stunt.”
“Do you agree that it was a slap in the face to law enforcement? Do you agree that the Black Panthers was/is a hate group which should not be glorified?” reads the protest promotion on Event Brite. “Come and let’s stand together. Let’s tell the NFL we don’t want hate speech & racism at the Superbowl ever again!” The message comes complete with the hashtags #BoycottBeyonce, #BlueLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter. MSNBC has reached out to the organizer of the protest through the email provided on the site page, but has not heard back at this time.
Michael Wilbon, a sportswriter and co-host of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” called Giuliani’s attack on Beyoncé “reprehensible” on his show this Tuesday. “His comments were arrogant, dismissive and politically, racially charged and motivated and divisive,” he said. “He’s got a racial agenda.”
Meanwhile, the singer’s fanbase, affectionately known as the “Beyhive,” have planned a counter-protest scheduled for the same day as the anti-Beyoncé protest. “When Black women affirm Blackness/Black womanhood, they are attacked and silenced,” their message reads. “Sisters, dress in your “Formation” video/Super Bowl performance-inspired gear and make this a moment a joyous one! Allies and friends, show up and show your support! We have asked our biggest stars to get political and Bey went there. Don’t let anyone make her powerful statement about the value of Black life be overshadowed by those who don’t believe that our lives matter.”
Although Beyoncé has been a popular music fixture for nearly two decades now, she has become increasingly a lighting rod in the realm of politics. After she enthusiastically backed President Barack Obama’s two candidacies for the the White House, she became a regular target for conservative ire. She was attacked by Republicans in 2013 when she and husband, rapper Jay-Z, secured visas for a trip to Cuba. And former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee seemed particularly preoccupied with tearing down the “Single Ladies” singer, criticizing the Obamas last year for exposing her dance moves, which he said are “best left for the privacy of her bedroom,” to their young daughters.
Of course, the singer’s defenders can be just as ferocious — as “The View” co-host Raven-Symone recently learned the hard way when she dismissed the video for “Foundation” as “hilarious.” Recently, Rolling Stone writer Mosi Reeves tweaked the intensity of Beyoncé’s support, while critiquing her appearance in a new Coldplay video that has been accused of insensitive cultural appropriation.
“For now, it seems that any criticism of Beyoncé’s art will earn you the tag of an ‘Illuminati-truthing hater,’” writes Reeves. “But even if you won’t go as far as the brilliant scholar bell hooks and label Beyoncé a ‘terrorist,’ it’s worth pointing out the incongruities in her brand. Glossing over those contradictions so that we can love our idol better risks turning her into an empty vessel for our ever-changing desires. As a result, we rob her of her full humanity.”
On the other hand, Huffington Post’s Zeba Blay has pushed back on those who suggest that Beyoncé is simply dabbling in political activism. “Beyoncé has always been political – and most of all, pro-black – we just weren’t paying attention,” she wrote in a recent column on “Formation.” “The song, video, and subsequent Super Bowl performance is the visual and auditory equivalent of ‘b—h you thought.’ With its nods to New Orleans, its imagery invoking the realities of police brutality, its celebration of black gay ballroom culture and the Black Panthers, Beyoncé’s latest single is perhaps the most straightforward expression of her blackness.”
As far as Beyoncé herself is concerned, she has stayed characteristically silent. She rarely gives interviews, preferring to let her lyrics and performances speak for themselves. In recent years, she has made her embrace of feminism a centerpiece of her pop art. Now, as she begins to tackle criminal justice and police brutality, it will be curious to see if people outside her core fanbase heed her message.